AgWatch

Daytime Calving, Easier Than You Think!

DR. TERESA L. STECKLER

SIMPSON, ILL.
   The spring calving season will be in full swing for many cow/calf producers very soon.  This is an important time of the year; the result of a multitude of management decisions that occurred several months ago are about to be revealed. Many producers will tell you that this is the most rewarding part of cow-calf production, yet they will also tell you that this time of year is also the most tiring.
   Producers can spend a great amount of time observing the cows and heifers to ensure calving proceeds normally. It is especially important to observe first calf heifers periodically and provide assistance when needed. If you anticipate large calves, then it may be necessary to also check them periodically. For me checking at night was the best time because I am a night owl, but for most producers this may not be so. Although you can predict when some cattle will calve, others can be a complete mystery.  Thus increasing the number of cows calving during the daylight hours can be very advantageous.
   Shifting from nighttime to daytime calving has several advantages. First is that calving difficulties are much easier to manage when one can see during daylight hours. Secondly, calves have a longer time to dry off before the sun goes down and you can observe whether the calves nurse. Thirdly, predators are less likely to strike during daylight, especially if you are driving through/by the pasture on a routine basis. And finally, if you have large pastures or wooded areas, calving during the day would make it much easier to find calving cows.
   So how can the calving time be shifted? Producers can manipulate calving time by shifting the time of day when cattle are fed. Late afternoon or evening feeding effect on calving is presently believed to be caused by temperature, gut fill and rumen fermentation changes. Cows after being fed show an increase in metabolic heat due to fermentation that helps offset environmental temperature drop due to the night effect. Some resources believe gut fill and metabolic heat may alter blood hormone concentrations that influence calving.
   Here are several studies to consider:
   • In a Canadian study (n=104 cows), the group fed at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. delivered 38.4 percent of the calves during the day versus 79.6 percent of a group fed at 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. 
   • In a Kansas State study, 85 percent of calves were born between 6am and 6pm after fed between 4pm and 6pm the previous evening.
   • A British study (n=162 cows on 4 farms) compared the percentages of calves born from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. to cows fed at different times. When cattle were fed at 9 a.m., 57 percent of the calves were born during the day, versus 79 percent with feeding at 10 p.m. 
   • The largest and probably the most convincing study was conducted on 15 farms in Iowa. The cows (n=1331) were fed once a day at dusk which resulted in 85 percent of the calves born between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
   Thus, review of the studies suggests the following: feed provided in the morning resulted in parturition that occurred randomly throughout the day while feed provided in the evening resulted in more cattle giving birth during daylight hours. Additionally it does not appear that starting the herd nightly feeding one week before calving starts versus two to three weeks earlier had any apparent effect on calving time.
   Although feeding in the evening/night may not work for some producers, the advantages noted above may warrant shifting the feed time the week prior to the start of the calving season. The primary goal of producers is to ensure that calving proceeds normally. With adequate observation time producers can have a significant impact on reducing calf mortality. Happy calving!! ∆
   DR. TERESA L. STECKLER: Extension Specialist, Animal Systems/Beef, Dixon Springs Agricultural Center, University of Illinois

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